Author: journeyistblog (Page 2 of 2)

Welcome to The Journeyist travel blog featuring stories from the sea to the slopes and sometimes everything in between.
Authored by Terry Lankstead, editor of GoodLife Magazine in Mississauga, Ontario, many of the articles have already been published but fresh stories could surface here from time to time.
The Journeyist believes that travel is more than just a destination and the featured stories reflect this romantic notion, providing readers with insider details either to make them yearn to adventure there or feel like they have experienced it all first hand.
Sit back, explore this site and prepare for an adventure with The Journeyist.

Les Sables D’Olonne: France’s west coast seaside retreat

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.23.58 PMWe boarded the TGV at Gare Montparnasse almost ready for the second leg of our summer family vacation. 

I say almost because there is always something else you hoped to do, or someplace else you really wanted to visit in Paris, but that only means you will have to return again someday. I find it is important when travelling, to cherish the experiences you have, rather than lament about what you didn’t see or accomplish. This is particularly poignant when it comes to Paris, the city of light, where living in the moment, lapping up the atmosphere, the café culture, its breathtaking architecture, and heightened sense of style, is of parallel importance if not more, to visiting the art galleries, Notre Dame, that famous tower, cruising on the Seine  and shopping on the Champs-Elysées. And let’s not diminish the importance of sampling all the yummy baguettes, runny cheeses, croissants, crepes, chocolates and inexpensive wines. Ca c’est Paris!

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.30.16 PMBut at this point of our journey—the waiting to catch the train point—I was heaving with excitement, not because we were about to bid au revoir to a world class city that had become wall to wall people on a sweltering July weekend, but because we were about to board arguably the fastest train on the planet, clocked at speeds of 320kph.

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.01 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.14 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.26 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.37 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.46 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.31.58 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.32.13 PM Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.32.21 PMThe 404 kilometre journey from Paris southwest to Les Sables d’Olonne ordinarily takes about six hours via the French National Railway (SNCF), but the high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) service vaults you there in just three hours twelve minutes! Of course it is pricier but it was worth it for what was inevitably an experience our family will never forget. This is the sort of travel that Ontario and Canada should strive towards.

Once you’ve cleared suburban Paris and the speedometer of this electric rocket quietly sneaks (the train itself is almost silent unlike the clickety clack of regular rail travel) up to a staggering 320kph, do you truly appreciate its sheer speed as the beautiful French landscape consumes the TGV’s picture windows with a blur of yellows, blues, greens and wind turbine farms.

I have never seen so many wind turbines on one journey. We left Paris in the sunny heat of midday and arrived at Les Sables d’Olonne in the Pays de la Loire cloaked in drizzle and grey. But one of the locals assured us it will soon pass as it always does later in the day. She was right. By the time we were settled and unpacked at our quaint welcoming French hotel Les Hirondelles, the clouds had dispersed and drenched the courtyard in sun and um… ladybugs (le coccinelles)!! The tables and sun chairs were alive with orange and black spots. We chose to ignore them, shared a cocktail with the extremely friendly owners Regis and Olivia before our two minute dash across the street and the sprawling beach “sands of Olonne” (Les Sables d’Olonne) to dip our feet into the cool waters of the Bay of Biscay.

Ah oui, this is why we came here. The lure of the sea, the fresh local fruits de mer and a chance to enjoy a true French seaside holiday destination away from bustling tourist resorts like La Rochelle to the south (certainly worth a visit but a different kind of experience altogether). We visited in early July, thankfully just before the French school holidays began, so sharing our beach holiday with a few ladybugs was a small price to pay for not having to fight for beach towel real estate each morning.

To think that just a few hours ago we were lugging our baggage around the streets of Paris and now we were snacking on Chichis from Casa Chichi (France’s answer to Beaver Tails or Mexico’s Churros – long corrugated fingers of sugared fried dough presented like a bouquet of flowers) watching the sunset over the Bay of Biscay. Les Sables d’Olonne delivered everything we hoped for and we had yet to explore the centuries old village and port.

The port in the 17th century was the largest cod-fishing port in France. Today the French tourist destination is rather well known amongst the sailing set as it serves as both the start and finish for the famous Vendée Globe, a round-the-world single-handed yacht race. Founded by Philippe Jeantot in 1989 the race happens every four years from November to February and Mississauga’s own Derek Hatfield participated in the 2008-2009 event. Regretfully he had to abandon the race on the 50th day due to “broken spreaders.” I’m not sure what that means but it sure sounds important. You can read online about the Port Credit Yacht Club racer in the Summer 2008 issue of GoodLife.

Les Sables d’Olonne’s rich sailing history is no more evident than the moment you hit its sugary sand beach. When you face the sea look to your right and colourful catamaran sailboat rentals are mingled in with a multitude of beach amusements for children: Trampolines, bouncy castles, slides, cordoned off soccer pitches and bungee bouncers. Look out to sea and there is always a parade of colourful sailboats and windsurfers headed out to take advantage of the ever-present sea breeze.

The winds are so prevalent at this beach resort, that rows upon rows of windbreaks front the ocean like market stalls. The only market here however would be of the exposed human skin variety. I scratched my head when I first happened upon this unique beach architecture but after performing a Mary Poppins routine with the beach umbrella, I gained an appreciation for the windbreak huts. They also provide privacy from those who should not be wearing Speedos. Our group retreated to them a few times but worshipped the sea view too much to linger there for more than an hour.

And oh what a view it is! The beach is set within a bay thanks to the lighthouse breakwall to the north that helps form the inner harbour, home to over a thousand vessels, and the beach curves around to the south as well, where rock-poolers like to gather when the tide goes out. The surf is perfect for families most of the time with smaller gentle waves that only become surfer friendly when the wind really picks up. It is an ideal setting for the kitesurfers who are drawn there, but during our stay in early July only the windsurfers and sailers were out in full force.

If you’re the type to become bored with lazing on the beach, flying kites, building sandcastles, and reading, you might want to join a game of beach soccer or to stroll into the picturesque shopping village where the sound of the waves is replaced by unobtrusive music from a local radio station. A soundtrack of wartime songs emanates from strategically placed speakers above the old village of Les Sables d’Olonne. In some ways the city is almost like Quebec City on a much smaller scale. It has its newer developed business side and its quaint old village that oozes character and charm.

Visitors will spend most of their non-beach time here visiting pâtisserie, chocolatiers, eclectic shops of every description, funky clothing and shoe shops, and a massive central market., ‘Les Halles Centrales’ (designed by the Les Sables Architect, Charles Smolski in 1890).

Here, you can gather provisions of brie, camembert and other runny cheeses, artisanal breads, pastries, fresh catches, cockles, winkles, local oysters and anything else you would expect to find in a French market.

The village streets harken back to yesteryear in every way, from cobbles to shuttered stone buildings and white washed houses with scalloped clay tile roofs. There is also a gothic church Notre Dame de Bon Port built by Richelieu (Bishop of Lucon) in the 17th Century, a Benedictine Abbey and a 15th century chateau nearby.

After a day exploring the shops and beachfront, we would pop back to Les Hirondelles to freshen up. Whilst waiting for the family to gather for an evening out, co-owner Regis is more than happy to pour you a pint and test out your French language knowledge or lack thereof. He takes a little too much joy in my struggle to find the right words to convey our love for the area.

When asked where to go for good seafood, he pointed in every direction, so we chose to head for Le Remblai, which is lined with hotels, restaurants, cafes and shops all of which have impressive views of the sea. Enjoying a café crème and watch the day go by. Pretty much everything is within walking distance and no sooner had we set out, than we happened upon a number of holiday homes covered in shell and broken tile mosaics just tucked away behind the Remblai. They are stunning and unexpected. Created by artist Mme. Arnaud Aubin the art depicts mostly nautical themes, although some border on the macabre and they often tell a story.

We headed back to the Remblai and over towards the casino, arcade and antique working carousel which kept the children rather interested.

Once we arrived in the harbour area we found it difficult to choose between so many restaurants. Most offer several reasonably priced and highly recommended prix fixe menus as well as a la carte choices.

Here is where you will really put your high school French to the test for as I mentioned Les Sables d’Olonne is a holiday destination for people who live in France. It helps to have some basic French knowledge and the locals are very patient and welcoming. Some of them also enjoy trying out their English skills.

After stuffing ourselves with les langoustines (Norwegian lobsters), les moules (mussels) and les huitres (oysters) we walked along the pier, took a ride on the seafront carousel and made our way back along the Remblai passing many happening bars to collapse and prepare for another day of lazing on the beach. This is the Good Life.

 

 

TRAVELINKSwww.vendeeglobe.org/enwww.tripadvisor.ca/Tourism-g196666-Les_Sables_d_Olonne_Vendee_
Pays_de_la_Loire-Vacations.html

www.hotelhirondelles.com

 

Nantucket: The Old Grey Lady of the Sea

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She can be shrouded in fog for days and she’s populated by grey-weathered shingled houses. Her wide-open vistas offer an uninterrupted view of the Atlantic. Combine innate beauty with centuries-old charm and it is befitting that Nantucket is nicknamed The Old Grey Lady.

When the mystical fog lifts – and this can happen as surprisingly quick as its arrival – a magical land of vibrant colour is unveiled. From incomparable ocean views inward to endless sandy beaches, open heath-like moors with abundant wild Rugosa roses, Scottish heather, pines and grasses, to serene ponds, salt marshes, creeks and cranberry bogs, Nantucket’s diverse natural landscape has everything to offer. The flora and fauna reflects the island’s rich history of settlers who were originally lured there to hunt the great whales that flourished primarily off its southern shores.

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.15.31 PMThe Way To Go
Getting there is not the easiest of tasks and islanders wouldn’t have it any other way. They know it is well worth the added effort created by being isolated from the mainland. It is about an eleven-hour (960km) drive east from Mississauga– in our case it was 15 hours in torrential rain– via the New York Thruway, the Mass Turnpike and down the 495 to Hyannisport, MA.

From here you will scramble to park your car and catch a one or two-hour ferry depending on whether you choose the quicker but more expensive fast ferry or one of the slower boats. You can take your vehicle on to the island, but this involves booking well in advance. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transport; bring your own or rent once you get to the island. Jeeps are available for hire and there are also taxis and buses to get you to your beachhouse with all your luggage.

If you are looking to maximize your time there, flying might be the best way to go. A flight to Boston and a connection to Nantucket could get you to ‘ACK’ the airport code for Nantucket Memorial Airport in as little as four hours, if you time it right. You may recall that this famous airport was the setting for the hit 90s hit TV series, Wings, although, it was renamed Tom Nevers Field for the Nantucket sitcom. However you get to the island, once you set foot on its sandy soil, breathe in the salty air, and prepare to fall in love with the old grey lady.

Whaling and Cranberries
Settled in 1659, the island 25 miles (approx.40 km) southeast of Cape Cod Massachusetts, was a whaling centre until the late 1850s. Cranberries and tourism are now the island’s mainstays. In fact, the Milestone Road Cranberry Bog is one of the largest in the world.

Some of these cranberries are added to the famous juices of Nantucket Nectars, a growing juice business launched by the Two Toms– Nantucketers, Tom Scott and Tom First who attended Brown College together. Their juice products are hugely popular in the New England area and they are available here through Cadbury Schweppes in Mississauga.

Cisco Brewers and Nantucket Vineyards
When it comes to libations, Nantucket has it covered, with Cisco Brewers, Triple Eight Distillery and Nantucket Vineyard all at the same location on Bartlett Farm Road near Cisco Beach. I highly recommend the aptly named Whale Tale Pale Ale. And if you visit the brewery, I do recommend a visit to nearby Bartlett Farm to pick up one of their famous fruit pies and take in their wildflower farm.

Cisco is the island’s hottest surfing destination. When I say hot, I mean you can sit there on the beach and watch more the 20 surfers of all ages and skill at any one time. Surf schools and camps are available, and Nantucket Town has a few surf shops to get you started. Cisco is also a popular destination to try out the latest craze, Skim Bungee. Check it out on youtube.

A Beach Lover’s Paradise
Cisco is just one of several different kinds of beaches available to island visitors. Boogie-board, big surf destinations on the south and west sides include the picturesque Surfside Beach, Nobadeer, Miacomet, Madaket and Cisco. These all offer foot-therapy cushioned sand, protected by a picturesque backdrop of grassy moorland. Surfside is perfect for morning walks, where you will find large clamshells amongst other attractive seashells and even the occasional sand dollar washed ashore. You are almost guaranteed to see a few seals frolicking just past the surf break, as well as the occasional ‘protected’ colony of Turns that enjoy dancing around the wash, looking for small sand crabs.

Family swimming in calmer waters is available at the town’s Children’s Beach as well as on the north shores of the island, at beaches like Dionis and the hugely popular Jetties Beach that also features a beachside café, shop and boardwalk. At Jetties you can watch the ferries arriving, yachts racing and fishing boats leaving to collect their haul of lobster or crab. There are also gorgeous tennis courts available to rent by the hour. Before you play, be prepared to sweep off the seashells dropped by hungry seagulls.

Catch of the Day
If fishing is your thing, look no further than Nantucket’s Straight Wharf, where you can charter a boat to catch bass, stripers bluefish and the highly-sought-after blue fin tuna. If that is too ambitious for you, just take your rod down to the beach and fish for the mighty bluefish. At the end of the day I recommend fishing on the west side of the island at Madaket, where you can enjoy spectacular sunsets. Madaket is also a decent bike ride (8km) destination from town. The loop will also take you past the picturesque Long Pond.

Tales and Great Whites
Nantucket has proven to be an inspiration to artisans and writers – including Elin Hiderbrand, Nathaniel Philbrick, Peter Benchley and Herman Melville. The 1851 classic, Moby Dick is based on the tragedy of the Nantucket whaleship Essex, which was attacked by a sperm whale while at sea, and sank. This storied whaling past is highlighted at the Nantucket Historical Society’s recently renovated whaling museum.

In addition to the museum, the old grey lady supports three lighthouses including Brant Point, America’s oldest lighthouse station, as well as four golf courses, an 18th century windmill, the Maria Mitchell Observatory, 50 miles of beaches and a town centre that oozes history.

According to local author/photographer Robert Gambee “No other town in America today has as many homes (over eight hundred) built in the period 1740 to 1840, almost all of which are located in their original settings.”

Also of note, Nantucket has no traffic lights, neon signs, or fast food franchises. The 10,000 year-round residents prefer it that way. At the height of the season this population surges to 50,000 during peak season.

Shopping
From its marina of luxury yachts, sailboats and fishing charters to its cobblestone streets and world-class restaurants, the town centre has it all. Enjoy unique souvenir shops and knick-knacks for the home and don’t forget to check out the famous Nantucket Reds clothing available at Murray’s Toggery Shop and the Nobby Clothes Shop. You can easily spend an entire weekend exploring the historic town. Its unique character and charm are reflected in its classy hand-carved shop signs. Traditions have been maintained in every picture-perfect streetscape.

From the moment you venture off Nantucket Centre’s Main Street on foot, blades or bicycle– Nantucket has an extensive picturesque path system –the sweet perfume of the well-manicured privet hedges overwhelm you. The island’s grey-weathered complexion is partly due to its strict building codes that see any new build adhere to Nantucket’s traditional cedar shingled and dormered appearance. These shingles grey rapidly courtesy of the salty sea air.

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 5.15.13 PMSiasconset Village and Sankaty Head

If you are staying at one of the many Inns or B&Bs in town, do not forget to venture out to the quaint village of Siasconset (pronounced ‘Sconset for short). ‘Sconset is a hot destination for tourists and garden lovers alike and it was the first spot in America to welcome the dawning of the millenium. From June to early July, witness the intense display of climbing roses that grace most of the charming centuries-old cottages.

Carry on from ‘Sconset to Sankaty Head Lighthouse, which was cleverly moved 400 feet away from the bluff in 2006, to avoid the ravages of soil erosion. Some say, from this vantage point if you look out past the sheer drop, you can see Portugal (perhaps with the Hubble telescope).

In July, in addition to the blossming privet, hydrangeas reign supreme. Their unique purples front numerous cottages and beachouses on the island. In August, the Rose of Sharon and Black-eyed Susan come to the forefront. The Town gardens never fail to impress passers-by when strolling along the red brick walkways. They greet you when you get off the ferry and they are one of the last things you see before boarding for the melancholic return back to the mainland.

At the end of your visit, after the ferry pulls away from the dock, find yourself a penny, as it is a Nantucket tradition to launch one into the sea as the boat rounds Brant Point Light. This will assure that one day you will return into the welcoming arms of ‘the old grey lady.’

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